Audiences, board members and patrons: can fundraisers please them all?
An interview with Guillaume Maréchal, Head of Strategic Development for the City of Paris
By Alexia JACQUES-CASANOVA
If you work as a fundraiser in the arts, you have probably felt — at least once in your career — like a tightrope walker having to jump through flaming hoops as you tried to secure the generous gift of a patron while ensuring their profile fitted the board’s vision and also matched with your audience. Phew!
I had the pleasure to discuss the acrobatic act of securing balanced sponsorships with Guillaume Maréchal, Head of Strategic Development for the City of Paris, France. Spoiler: it’s all about knowing what makes your institution unique and learning to cultivate transparency.
Knowing who you are and playing to your strengths
Before he joined the City of Paris, Guillaume Maréchal worked for several art institutions including the Musée d’Orsay — home to the world’s largest collection of impressionists and post-impressionists works — where he started developing his unique approach to fundraising. “I delved into what makes the Musée d’Orsay unique and specific” he explains. “The end of the 19th century is the beginning of a turning point for women in French society. The Musée d’Orsay gave birth to several exhibitions on charismatic women and historical periods of social progress, opening up discussions about gender and relations between men and women.” On this fertile ground, Guillaume Maréchal and his team decided to create a Women Patrons Circle, an absolute first in France.
Having a clear identity and being aware of what makes your institution unique is, according to Guillaume Maréchal, the most important thing when it comes to creating relevant and sustainable partnerships. “We are offering opportunities to our sponsors and patrons that could not be recreated elsewhere because they are based on our institution’s unique identity and positioning.” The clearer your identity is, the easier it will be for your fundraising team to target, meet, and convince relevant companies or individuals to become patrons.
Being transparent through thick and thin
When Notre-Dame de Paris was ravaged by flames last April, donations quickly poured in, sparking both positive response and heated controversies among the French. I asked Guillaume Maréchal about what responsibilities, if any, institutions have towards civil society when they receive such generous pledges. In his opinion, they have a “duty of pedagogy” towards the general public, and should consider angry reactions as healthy behaviour.
”We can’t ask people to be engaged and involved and then expect them to keep their indignation to themselves. Of course these are difficult situations to deal with for us fundraisers, but they are also encouraging signs that people care.” For Guillaume Maréchal, the best way to deal with such debates and encourage consensus around donations is to provide accessible information to the public. In other words, to explain why it is important to donate and detail what the collected funds will be used for.
Clarity and transparency, both towards patrons and the public, is key. Even if your institution is “clean” and well-intended, failing to provide easy-to-grasp and transparent information to both parties will lead to mistrust and dissatisfaction.
Summing up, how do we keep everyone happy? Having a clear identity (or brand) with clear values is the best foundation to successful and relevant fundraising strategies. You will attract like-minded sponsors and patrons and ensure you stay true to your raison d’être, thus maintaining your audience’s trust and satisfaction.
Cultivating transparency and educating both your audience and patrons to the ins and outs of fundraising is also essential, especially during exceptional times when a catastrophe such as the Notre-Dame fire brings along extraordinary amounts of donations as well as questions, doubts and political debates.
Guillaume Maréchal is one of the many fantastic speakers attending the upcoming Culture Business conference, taking place in Sydney in November. He will analyse and discuss the mechanics of donations in the aftermath of the Notre-Dame fire. He will also present the unique business model developed for Nuit Blanche, the annual art all-nighter initiated in France over 20 years ago and replicated in cities throughout the world.
©Jean-Baptiste Gurliat for Ville de Paris